Three chemical engineering faculty win LAUNCH funding support

Published: Nov 30, 2022 12:05 PM

By Leslie Parsons

On November 15, in an ongoing effort to advance research ideas that benefit society and the economy, Auburn University awarded three faculty research projects more than $100,000 in LAUNCH funding support.

Established in 2015 by the Auburn University Research and Economic Development Advisory Board, the LAUNCH Fund for Research and Innovation involves a multi-stage competition and related programming designed to bridge the gap between innovative research and the marketplace.

Xinyu Zhang, a professor in Auburn’s Department of Chemical Engineering was awarded $40,152 in support of his efforts to manufacture low-cost, long-lasting catalyst membranes for use in green hydrogen production. Hydrogen is a promising energy carrier for a range of clean and sustainable energy technologies, but production cost is high because of the expensive platinum catalysts commonly used in hydrogen generation. Zhang has developed a cost-effective alternative catalyst that is both less expensive than platinum catalysts and lasts three to five times longer. Zhang’s catalysts make the generation of hydrogen through water electrolysis less cost prohibitive with the capacity to create a real boost in the expansion of today’s hydrogen market. 

Zhihua Jiang, an associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and director of the Alabama Center for Paper and Bioresource Engineering, received $43,175 in funding for his novel process to turn wood into wood pulp more effectively. Kraft pulping is the predominant process for converting wood into wood pulp as fibrous raw material for papermaking or other specialty applications. One major drawback of the kraft pulping process is the relatively high residual lignin content of the resulting pulps. High residual lignin results in lower pulp brightness and some undesirable physical properties, and high residual lignin cannot be removed without causing significant impacts to pulp yield and quality. To reduce high residual lignin content of kraft pulps and to improve yield, various additives to the process have been evaluated, however there are often health and safety, environmental, and regulatory issues associated with current available additives. Jiang’s alternative process addresses the market need to develop other additives that improve yields in kraft pulping with little to no negative consequences to personnel and the environment. 

Burak Aksoy, an assistant research professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering was awarded $34,963 for his work with plant-based sustainable barrier coatings and films that are suitable for the food packaging industry. These novel coatings improve the strength of paper and paperboard, increase shelf life and reduce food spoilage. Aksoy will now work with collaborators the USDA to verify results and to move from bench scale to pilot scale operations.

As with any Auburn innovators whose projects are significantly advanced and demonstrated, LAUNCH award recipients will be connected to experts in Auburn's New Venture Accelerator, and to the professional staff of IP Exchange for help in devising pathways to commercialization.

More information about how Auburn supports experts through LAUNCH is available on the LAUNCH website.

Media Contact: Leslie Parsons,, 334.844.6147

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